Georgia Tech points to accomplishments, not bowl disappointment

MIAMI – The loss was disappointing, especially considering the stakes.

But Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and his players said Tuesday night's 24-14 defeat to Iowa in the Orange Bowl shouldn't overshadow what they accomplished this season:

--The first outright ACC title since 1990.

--The first win against top-five team at home since 1962.

--The first win in Tallahassee against Florida State in seven attempts.

--The first win in Charlottesville against Virginia since 1990.

"This was the magical season of Georgia Tech," B-back Jonathan Dwyer said. "We had a great year. We got here because everybody doubted us throughout the whole season. We lost but this season is a season I'll never forget for the rest of my life."

Nevertheless, the loss in the Orange Bowl does sting.

The players talked throughout the month of preparation about how winning a BCS game could be the first step in laying the groundwork to compete for a national title in 2010.

Instead, Iowa shut down Tech's offense in the first half, forcing the Yellow Jackets to punt on six consecutive possessions. Combined with the Jackets' night-long penalty problems (a season-high-tying nine for 68 yards), their offense was held to 155 yards, 287 below their season average.

"We were just shooting ourselves in the foot," Johnson said. "We were having penalty after penalty after penalty, mistakes after mistakes after mistakes. If you have those, there's no way you're going to have the opportunity to make a big play."

The team gets a couple of  months to stew over the loss, just like it had to last year after the 38-3 loss to LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

"We'll work harder to be better than we were this year since we have to defend our conference title," quarterback Josh Nesbitt said.

Tech would seem to be in position to make a run at repeating its ACC title and Orange Bowl appearance.

The team loses just six scholarship seniors, three of whom were starters. Two of those, however, were on the offensive line: tackle Brad Sellers and all-conference guard Cord Howard. The other was outside linebacker Sedric Griffin.

But much of next year's success may be known by Jan. 15, the day that juniors have to declare if they are going to make themselves eligible for the NFL draft.

Defensive end Derrick Morgan, the ACC's defensive player of the year, is projected to be a top-10 pick. Dwyer, conference player of the year in 2008, is projected to go no later than the second round. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who led the conference in receiving yards and yards per catch, is projected to be a third-round selection.

Morgan and Thomas said the bowl result likely wouldn't influence their decision, while Dwyer said it may. If they return, the Jackets should be favored to win back-to-back conference titles for the first time since 1951-52, when they it did so in the SEC.

But for the program to progress any further, Johnson said the team has to improve along both lines. The defensive line, decimated by injuries, had 19 sacks, but Morgan had 12 1/2 of them. An inability to consistently generate pressure caused breakdowns in the secondary, as well as the team's run defense.

Tech's offensive line helped the team average307 rushing yards per game, second in the nation, before Iowa shut it down in the Orange Bowl. But injuries also took their toll as the season wore on.

"There's a lot of areas that we've got to be better at and that's one of them" Johnson said. "We've got to get better inside. There is no joke about that. We've known that."

The team redshirted several promising freshmen on both sides of the ball this season, which should lead to a competitive spring practice.

"We're still trying to lay a base or foundation," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of areas that we need to get better at. You know, we're going to keep working to get there. You're disappointed when you lose and you should be because if it means anything, it ought to hurt. But you can't let that game take away from the season they had."